The perceived independence of public health advice could be compromised if Public Health England becomes an integrated government department, existing agencies have warned.
The public health white paper Healthy Lives, Healthy People said Public Health England would be “set up as part of the Department of Health”.
But the Health Protection Agency, public health observatories, the Faculty of Public Health and the Association of Directors of Public Health have united in issuing warnings that the new body must be scientifically independent and transparent.
They are all calling for Public Health England to be made either a special health authority within the NHS or an executive agency of the DH.
The Health Protection Agency will have its functions taken on by Public Health England. Its response to the white paper claimed that “maintaining the confidence and trust of the public and professionals” in Public Health England would “depend on it having its “own strong separate identity as an expert body”.
This would include having “proper arrangements to safeguard the independence of its staff in providing expert scientific and public health advice at the local, national and international levels”.
The eight public health observatories said: “There is a real risk the scientific independence and transparency of the outputs of Public Health England cannot be safeguarded if there is no guaranteed ‘scientific autonomy of output’.
“This could put public confidence in the veracity of Public Health England outputs and advice at great risk – as has been shown historically with outputs from other government departments.”
Faculty president Lindsey Davies said: “Public Health England could be a tremendous force for good health, but equally it could become little more than a slimmed down Health Protection Agency, part of the civil service and with no independent voice.”
“We can rescue the situation. But it needs the government to listen to, and take on board, what we are saying,” she added.